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Rural Health Information Hub

Dental Clinic Model

In the dental clinic model, dental providers offer safety net oral health services to individuals. Some rural communities are using existing dental clinics when implementing this model, while others seek funding to build new free-standing clinics or open new clinics within an existing local medical center. In one rural program that participates in an oral health consortium, four dental clinics operate in a partner's building at no cost.

Some dental clinic programs may only offer emergency oral health services. Some rural dental clinics offer regular preventive, restorative, surgical, and rehabilitation services to patients, such as:

  • Dental hygiene (cleaning, scaling, polishing)
  • Oral cancer screening
  • Dental X-rays
  • Dental sealants
  • Fluoride varnish
  • Fillings
  • Root canal therapy
  • Crowns
  • Tooth extraction
  • Dentures
  • Treatment of gum disease

In addition to these services, dental clinics may offer patient education on oral hygiene, self-care, and wellness maintenance. Rural dental clinics may also provide services for expecting mothers and mothers with infants, such as information about newborn hygiene and bottle-feeding, sample dental products, dental wipes, and treatment schedules.

In some dental clinics, dentists or dental students offer their services free of charge. Other dental clinics may accept Medicaid payments or use a sliding fee scale. Some dental clinics offer only emergency dental services, and such services are offered at reduced rates.

Implementation Considerations

Rural dental clinics are staffed in different ways. Some programs recruit dentists to provide dental care to patients on a rotating schedule, sharing the responsibility across providers. Other programs work with dental residents to provide free dental care. Programs also offer multi-day portable clinic events staffed by dental and medical professionals and community member volunteers.

Rural oral health programs have established patient advisory groups to guide their projects to identify and understand the needs of their priority population. In some cases, food, transportation, and modest compensation are offered to advisory group members to improve participation.

Resources to Learn More

A Guide for Developing and Enhancing Community Oral Health Programs
Designed to help local public health agencies develop, integrate, expand, or enhance community oral health programs. Provides step-by-step information on mobilizing community support, organizing a needs assessment, planning and implementing the program, program evaluation, and policy development and research to improve oral health.
Organization(s): American Association for Community Dental Programs (AACDP)

National Network for Oral Health Access
An organization whose mission is to improve oral health of underserved populations and support the integration of oral health with primary care. Seeks to strengthen the oral health safety-net through knowledge, leadership, advocacy, and support to oral health providers. Focus is on improving oral health access by developing resources and initiatives, and promoting of core clinical competencies and promising practices.

Safety Net Dental Clinic Manual: Second Edition
Developed by experts to guide dental clinic staff with the development and operations of a safety net dental clinic. Topics covered include partnerships and planning, facilities and staffing, finances, administrative operations, and quality assurance.
Author(s): Doherty, M., Bingham, D., Kislak, R., etc.
Organization(s): DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement, National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center